Fritigern

(fourth century)
   Leader of the Gothic Tervingi (r. 376-380) and rival of Athanaric, Fritigern is best known as the commander of the Gothic armies that destroyed the Roman army led by the emperor Valens at the Battle of Hadrianople in 378. His opposition to Athanaric caused repeated problems for that Gothic judge, whose office, though royal, was of limited power, and led to a division of the Goths in 376. His victory over Valens was a serious, but not fatal, blow to the Roman Empire and caused important changes in the relationship between Rome and the barbarian peoples inside and outside the empire's boundaries.
   During the struggles between the empire and Athanaric in the 360s and 370s, Fritigern emerged as a rival to Athanaric and an advocate of a pro-Roman policy. Fritigern, a figure of equal stature to Athanaric among the Goths, rose up against the Gothic ruler after a war with the Romans in the late 360s. Fritigern adopted a pro-Christian stance, and was perhaps supported by the famous missionary Ulfilas, during Athanaric's persecutions in the early 370s. Fritigern's support for the Christians may have been the result of a personal bond with the emperor Valens, who was an Arian Christian. The course of the rebellion remains unclear, it but was probably suppressed by the time of the arrival of the Huns in the mid-370s.
   The Hunnish advance afforded Fritigern another opportunity to oppose the rule of Athanaric. The Gothic judge had some initial success against the invaders but was bested in battle by them. Athanaric also lost important territory to the Huns and had his supply lines cut off by them. The devastation caused by war with the Romans and Huns made things extremely difficult for the Goths. In the summer of 376, in response to the crisis brought on by the Huns, Fritigern proposed that the Goths turn to the Romans for help. He persuaded most of Athanaric's followers to abandon their leader and join Fritigern and enter into the empire. Athanaric's long struggle with the Romans made it difficult for him to seek the empire's support, and he withdrew to the Carpathian Mountains. But Fritigern successfully petitioned Valens for support and was allowed to settle in the empire as an ally (foederatus) in 376 with some 80,000 Goths.
   Fritigern had successfully taken control of the Gothic Tervingi, and in the summer of 376 took the fateful step when he and his followers crossed the frontier into the empire.
   Fritigern's welcome into the empire was less than enthusiastic, however, and almost immediately difficulties arose, difficulties that brought the Goths and Romans to war. These problems included the incompetence of local administrators to deal with the sudden influx of people and the great number of Goths involved. Although Rome had welcomed barbarian peoples into the empire as allies before, they had never brought so many in at one time. The Goths were expected to serve in the army, farm, and pay taxes, but the services necessary to accommodate them were lacking and for the next two years, Fritigern and his followers operated freely within imperial borders. In 378 Valens and the Western emperor Gratian sent an army of infantry and cavalry of between 30,000 and 40,000 troops to end the threat of Fritigern. Valens, however, seeking a victory without his imperial colleague, moved his troops forward against what he thought were 10,000 warriors, when instead there were roughly 30,000. Despite warnings from Gratian about Gothic battle tactics, despite Fritigern's efforts to reach a peaceful settlement, Valens marched his troops against the Goths near Adrianople in early August.
   On August 9, Valens sent his troops forward without food or water in the boiling sun to meet the Goths, who had set fires along the Romans' path. Fritigern still sought to negotiate an agreement, but Roman soldiers, without orders, began a disorganized attack that proved fatal. The counterattack of the Gothic cavalry was rapid and forceful, and when other Goths returned from foraging, the assault on the Romans was made even more terrible. The Romans lost nearly two-thirds of their army at Hadrianople, and most of the casualties were from the infantry, the backbone of the Roman military. Among the dead were generals, unit officers, and the emperor Valens himself.
   Fritigern had led his Goths to a smashing victory, but he was unable to exploit the situation and gradually disappeared from view. Although a tragedy for the empire, the Battle of Hadrianople was not the catastrophe it is often seen to be, and it had equally significant consequences for Fritigern. In the wake of the battle, the Gothic leader faced division within his own ranks, and he was unable to restrict the raids for plunder that followed the battle. The Romans, led now by Gratian and Theodosius the Great, took steps to limit the destruction the Goths could cause, steps that included the destruction of a force of Goths in the Roman army. Moreover, an important member of Athanaric's clan joined the Romans and led the opposition to Fritigern, even destroying a large raiding party allied to Fritigern. In response to these steps, the Goths increased Fritigern's royal powers, and he increased the pressure on the empire by extending his raids in Macedonia and northern Greece. He also engineered a plot against his former rival Athanaric that drove the Gothic leader into exile.
   Despite these successes, Fritigern's cause was a lost one because of Roman military might and diplomatic skill. Although unable to stop Fritigern, the Romans could at least keep him in check militarily. Athanaric's welcome in Constantinople, together with the lavish funeral he was given there, was a means for the empire to display its compassionate side and identify itself as a friend to all Goths. By 382, when a treaty between Rome and the Goths was signed, Fritigern seems to have disappeared; no mention was made of him in the treaty. On the other hand, Fritigern's original goal for the Goths was achieved, since the Goths became imperial subjects by the terms of the treaty.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Ammianus Marcellinus. Ammianus Marcellinus. Trans. John C. Rolfe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971-1972.
 ♦ Bury, John B. The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians. New York: W. W. Norton, 1967.
 ♦ Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
 ♦ ---. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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